Standing in front of a large American flag, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told a crowd of about 100 people Tuesday that the country it represents is in triage.
“I want to stop the major bleeding,” Rhodes said during an hourlong speech at Valley Victory Church in Evergreen.
His diagnosis was accompanied by a prescription: He said Flathead County residents should consider forming a militia, no longer rely on government-issued currency and take a more active role in politics.
Rhodes, who lives in the Flathead Valley, brought his message at the request of Flathead Liberty Bell, a local conservative activist group. Rhodes, a 2004 graduate of Yale Law School and former member of Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul’s staff, founded Oath Keepers in 2009.
After an opening prayer by Chuck Baldwin, Rhodes expanded the mission of Oath Keepers. The nonpartisan association is a collection of past and present military personnel, police and firefighters who agree to take an oath promising not to obey unconstitutional or immoral orders from superiors.
The group’s members pledge not to disarm American people or confiscate their belongings, obey orders to detain citizens, conduct unlawful searches or support the use of foreign troops on U.S. soil.
Rhodes, who has at times been criticized by both liberal and conservatives as being a radical, sought Tuesday to explain the movement he started and galvanize those who support it.
He said the goal of the Oath Keepers is essentially to remind the people who have pledged oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution to continue doing so in a way that the country’s founders intended.
Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper, implored attendees not to vote for “oath breakers,” listing President Barack Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain as two people who have not lived up to their promises.
“I’d rather have any one of you in there,” he said to the crowd. “Because an average person is much more likely to do what’s right.”
He said career politicians are in office because they seek it out like a drug.
“They’re on a binge,” he said.
The government, Rhodes said, is sinking fast. He said repeatedly that the collapse of the American government and financial system is a forgone conclusion.
“It’s not that the iceberg is coming,” he said. “We already hit the iceberg. The Titanic is going down.”
But “The U.S. Constitution is still sea-worthy,” he said. “It’s still there.”
Rhodes said the country’s founders wanted citizens to be their own security. He said local residents should press county commissioners to approve the creation of a local militia that would guard against incursions by the federal government and others.
“When the crap hits the fan and the economy hits the fan, which it will, there won’t be enough police to keep order,” he said.
Rhodes referred to the use of the National Guard in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina where he said weapons were illegally seized from citizens and illegal searches were performed.
He also decried a U.S. Army battalion he claimed is trained to be deployed domestically.
A militia, he said, would prevent such so-called illegal over-reaching by the federal government.
“You’re weak right now. You’re militarily weak,” he said, adding that a militia could be formed into regular units.
“Why shouldn’t one county here lead the rest of the country?” he asked, eliciting applause from the crowd.
Rhodes also suggested that Flathead Valley residents consider using gold or silver to make purchases rather than government-issued currency. He predicted the Federal Reserve soon will collapse into a larger, worldwide entity.
“Say, ‘We’ll shop here if you’ll take silver,’” he said.
He said that powers granted to the federal government under George W. Bush and Obama have the potential to encroach on the freedom and liberties of citizens. The same laws used to detain alleged terrorists without a trial could be used on Americans, he said.
“Don’t think for a second that these powers won’t be used against you,” he said.
He warned attendees that many of the measures he suggested would be criticized by those in power. He referred to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has chronicled the arrests of Oath Keepers members and has released reports on the organization.
“The power elites want you to think that doing what the founders intended means you’re crazy,” he said.